Deepwater Horizon brings true events to the disaster genre

By Thomas Simpson

Disaster films of late tend to be soulless spectacles that throw our everyday man into a CGI-fueled catastrophe. The results are headache-inducing as our eyes struggle to make sense of the mess on screen as pixelated explosions burst forth for our entertainment. Deepwater Horizon may be categorized in the same genre, but it offers something different with one key ingredient in that it’s based on a true story. In 2010 the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded releasing thousands of gallons of petroleum into the Gulf of Mexico. Lives were lost and those responsible weren’t held accountable in what was the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

The rig is semi-submersible and located miles from the coast. There’s nowhere to run and director Peter Berg highlights this with sweeping shots of the ocean, exposing the vast nothingness and emphasizing how small the rig is in the aquatic world. The script is a pressure pot that slowly boils until the fateful event. Unlike more preposterous disaster films, there’s no fun in the carnage due to the realistic severity of the situation as the flames consume the structure and oil pollutes the ocean.

Despite the emotions that Deepwater Horizon will elicit, there isn’t much drama injected into the story. The action sequences are incredible but there’s little depth to the characters who aren’t fleshed out. Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) is our family man looking to survive. An instant hero who saves colleagues from disaster as he promises he’ll see his wife again. It’s a necessary trope but it does little to elevate the stakes. Wahlberg is fine in the role and the ensemble cast boasts great talent such as Kurt Russell and John Malkovich, both actors delivering fine performances.

Like most disaster films the draw is going to be the devastation. Berg is restrained in his portrayal of the event and is careful not to be exploitative of the situation. The aftermath inserts the emotion the film was missing with the credit sequence underlining with exclamation marks why you should leave the cinema with rage and not relief.

This was a man-made tragedy that the filmmakers clarify could’ve been avoided. They aren’t slow to point the finger at those responsible, even if the technical language is lost on you, it’s crystal clear as to who is to blame and as to why. It’ll make you angry and fearful that history could repeat itself as it isn’t apparent that any lessons have been learned.

Thomas Simpson is a writer and filmmaker based in Glasgow, U.K. Find him on Twitter: @Simmy41.

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